TENT (Heb. ’ōhel, Gr. skēnē). A temporary dwelling generally made of strong cloth of goat’s hair stretched over poles and held in place by cords reaching out to stakes driven into the ground. It is the typical dwelling of nomadic peoples. Tents are of various shapes—round and tapering, flat and oblong. All of a nomadic family’s belongings could normally be carried on one pack animal. A sheik would, of course, have several tents. Tent (usually tabernacle in kjv) often means any habitation (Gen.9.27; Job.8.22; Ps.84.10) and is often used figuratively (Isa.13.20; Isa.54.2; Jer.10.20).

Bedouin tent near Beersheba.

TENT (אָהַל, H183; σκηνή, G5008). A temporary dwelling generally made of strong black cloth woven from goat’s hair. From remote antiquity it has been the typical abode of the Bedouin, the nomadic Arab of the Arabian, Syrian, and N African deserts. Tents are of various types, conical, oval, oblong. They are pitched by women stretching goats’ haircloth over poles with cords of goats’ hair or hemp fastened to stakes. The stakes are hardwood pegs driven into the ground with wooden mallets (Judg 4:21). Reinforcements with narrow strips of cloth are used under the poles and where cords are fastened. Side curtains are of goats’ haircloth or mats woven from reeds or rushes. These are also used for dividing walls when needed to separate families or animals from people (2 Chron 14:15). The back of the tent is closed; the front often open. A corner of the curtain where two ends meet is turned back to form the door (Gen 18:1). Tents are a protection from heat and cold, but hardly rain proof.

Normally, one pack animal, donkey or camel, can carry all the belongings of a nomadic family. Dining utensils consist of two tinned copper cooking vessels, a shallow tray of the same metal, a coffee set consisting of roasting pan, morter and pestle, and boiling pot and cups. Food is usually kept in bags of goat hair, and liquids—i.e., milk, oil, and wine—in skins. Poor people have little or no rugs on their dirt floors, but the wealthier cover their floors with mats of goats’ hair or straw, or woolen rugs (Judg 4:18).

A sheikh, or chief, has several tents, one for himself and guests, others for his wives and female servants, and still others for his animals (Gen 31:33). The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (and Esau), were all wealthy tent dwellers. “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been in the beginning” (Gen 13:2f.). Later, “Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre” (13:18). Isaac, a farmer and herdsman, lived in tents (Gen 24:67; 26:12ff.). Jacob spent his life in tents, mostly as a rich nomad in Caanan (Gen 31:33; 33:19; 35:21).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

In the great stretches of uncultivated lands in the interior of Syria or Arabia, which probably have much the same aspect today as in Abraham’s time, it is an easy matter to espy an encampment of roving Bedouin, "a nation .... that dwelleth without care .... that have neither gates nor bars" (Jer 49:31). The peaks of their black (compare So 1:5) goats’ hair tents stand out in contrast against the lighter colors of the soil.

The poorer Arabs have no mats to cover the ground under their tents. Straw mats, goats’ hair or woolen rugs (compare Jud 4:18), more or less elaborate as the taste and means of the family allow, are the usual coverings for the tent floor. The food supplies are usually kept in goats’ hair bags, the liquids, as oil or milk products, in skins. One or two tinned copper cooking-vessels, a shallow tray of the same material, a coffee set consisting of roasting pan, mortar and pestle, boiling-pot and cups, make up the usual camp furniture. The more thrifty include bedding in their equipment, but this increases the difficulties of moving, since it might require more than the one animal, sometimes only a donkey, which carries all the earthly belongings of the family. A sheikh or chief has several tents, one for himself and guests, separate ones for his wives and female servants, and still others for his animals (compare Ge 31:33).

Other Hebrew words translated "tent" are forms of chanah (Nu 13:19; 1Sa 17:53; 2Ki 7:16; 2Ch 31:2; Zec 14:15); cukkah (2Sa 11:11; 22:12); mishkenoth (So 1:8).

James A. Patch